Just when it feels like you've played every conceivable type of board game, something new comes along that shakes up the status quo. For deck building games, it was Dominion. For Cooperative Games, it was Pandemic. Then Legacy Games came along and taught us that board games can be true narrative experiences with real stakes, so long as we're willing to tear up some cards in the process.
Part of the reason that board games are so incredibly popular right now is this rapid innovation and reinvention. Nonstop Tabletop has been lucky enough to stumble into what we believe could be the next big genre in board gaming: The Mosaic Game. But is this a true innovation or just a new angle on an existing idea?
What is a Mosaic Board Game?
A Mosaic Game is a board game that features unlockable modules that a player opens during each campaign. This leads to a unique narrative experience that varies from campaign to campaign. Each playthrough only unlocks a small portion of the content. Furthermore, the modules completely reset and are fully replayable.
This Sounds An Awfully Lot Like A Legacy Game...
Perhaps the biggest distinction to make here is that Legacy Games are primarily known for their one-time nature. Cards are ripped up, boards are marked on, and things become permanently altered, for better or worse. At best, they give each decision added weight and consequence and lead to unheard of levels of emotional involvement in a game made up of cardboard and plastic tokens. At their worst, they can represent a wasteful, manipulative and gimmicky attempt to cash in on the latest trend (for the record, we think the genre has been remarkably solid so far; Pandemic Legacy rightfully earns its place as one of the best board games of all time).
Mosaic Games share the concepts of unlockable content and unique gameplay experiences with Legacy Games, but that's where the comparisons stop. Mosaic Games reset after each campaign. No cards get ripped up, nothing gets thrown away and the magic marker is never uncapped. That said, your experience will be unique each time. It's almost like a choose your own adventure book.
So Mosaic Games Are Like T.I.M.E. Stories, Then?
Not exactly. T.I.M.E. Stories did, in fact, rely on modules that changed the game each time it was played. However, these were linear narrative experiences that could only be fully enjoyed the first time. Mosaic games only unlock a small portion of the content each time and fully reset after each campaign. All of the elements for a great story are there, but the pieces fit together differently with each playthrough.
Think of it this way: If T.I.M.E. Stories was like a series of chapters in a great novel, then a Mosaic Game is like a choose your own adventure story. You'll enjoy the story that unfolds with all of the requisite twists and turns. Then you'll close the book, open it up and take a different path the second time. And the third.
So What Mosaic Games Are There To Choose From?
Right now, only one is in active development: Spy Club by Foxtrot Games, makers of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and the recently-released Fox in the Forest. In Spy Club, players work together cooperatively to unlock clues and solve mysteries. It sounds like an appealing hybrid of Clue, Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories, with a little Magic Labyrinth thrown in for good measure.
Though Spy Club is the only game in active development, Foxtrot Games Game Designer/Producer Randy Hoyt expresses optimism that the genre will blossom beyond this first concept. When asked if they'll be making future Mosaic Games, Hoyt replied: "We hope so! We have some ideas sketched out for our next Mosaic Game; we'd like to do a competitive Mosaic Game next, but nothing is playable yet."
Hoyt continued that the inspiration for Mosaic Games was to take some of what makes Legacy Games so appealing, but make it more accessible for first-timers: "Most serious gamers are willing to buy a new game and learn it from the rulebook, but that's not how casual gamers learn games. Instead, they usually have someone (often a more serious gamer) teach them the game. When I teach games in this context, someone almost always buys their own copy of the game right away: they learned to play it by playing it with me, they enjoyed it, and they now feel confident that they could teach it to others."
"But Legacy Games don't quite fit that model: once I play a legacy game with my core gaming group, I can't really play it again to teach it to new players. Even if I bought another copy to play it with a new group, I'm having a different experience than they are because I have already seen all the revealed content and they have not."
Hoyt continued: "That's the angle we approached the problem from. A campaign in Spy Club lasts five games, and each campaign you'll unlock four or five different modules. At the end of 5 games, the story that emerges will be complete. Everything can then be fully reset. That way, you can play one campaign with your weekly game group, another with your family over a holiday break, and another with some friends you want to introduce into gaming. You'll unlock new content in each campaign, so everyone will have a self-contained, five-session campaign experience."
In addition, it seems that Charterstone an upcoming and decidedly Legacy Game from Stonemeier Games, has announced a recharge pack that will allow players to start fresh without purchasing a new board. This blurs the line a bit between the ideas of Legacy Games and Mosaic Games, though from what we've seen, this seems more like a variation on the Legacy Game rather than a jump into this new Mosaic genre. Like most things in the tabletop world, the line will be endlessly blurred.
Spy Club, Huh? Are you Sure This Is For Adults?
Though it is decidedly kid-friendly, Spy Club's art style reminds us a bit of The Sims in a way that could be cross-generational.
Hoyt seemed prepared for this one: "We've had great reception from adults demoing the game at conventions over the last year or so. As a company, our goal is to create approachable games. By that we mean games that people can play with their kids, that they’ll play with their significant other or their adult friends after they put their kids to bed, and that they’ll take to their gaming group as the first, lighter game of the evening."
"This one may be a little tougher sell because the main characters are kids and teens. We've worked to push the art direction in an older direction, going with older teens for the characters and a more polished instead of a cartoony look. A lot of people have fond memories of Encylopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, or other neighborhood detective stories, and Spy Club seems to resonate with those."
We all have kids here at Nonstop Tabletop, but judging by the art we've seen, it seems like it could be a tough sell to the 20 and 30-somethings without kids. Even if it doesn't manage cross-generational appeal, this could be great proof-of concept for more adult-oriented takes on the Moasaic genre in the future.
Is It Time To Get Excited About Mosaic Games?
It would be an understatement to say that there's an abundance of great games out there right now. "Golden Age" is not an exaggeration. Within this context, it can be foolish to get too excited about the next great Kickstarter project that may never get funded.
That said, the team here at Nonstop Tabletop is cautiously optimistic about the concept of a Mosaic Game. It sounds like it could address some of the key complaints about Legacy Games and make an excellent Gateway Genre in the process.
We're eagerly awaiting our review copy so we can let you know if Spy Club lives up to the quickly building hype. Spy Club launches on KickStarter in September. Learn more at SpyClubGame.com.
Article by Happy Strategerist, who watched enough Groundhog Day growing up to get unreasonably excited about the prospect of restarting the same day over and over and playing out the variations.
What do you think? Does the concept of a Mosaic Game sound like it could be the next great tabletop genre or does this just sound like a slightly different take on the Legacy format? Let us know in the comments below.
Can't stop playing? Be sure to check out our articles on Board Game Addiction, Why Board Games are So Trendy and the Essential Types of Board Games Everyone Should Know About.